Qiu Jinwei, a tourist from Wuhan, Hubei province, drove to Xiangyang, a city about 300 kilometers away, after watching the bittersweet time-travel comedy Hi, Mom on Feb 12. He and his family took photos at the chemical products factory where the movie was shot－where all the buildings and decorations were preserved in the style of 1980s China.
"I grew up in a factory like this, and all the scenes looked so familiar," Qin wrote on WeChat.
Those scenes included red brick houses hung with old-fashioned signboards depicting workers, alongside stores where customers had to shop with ration coupons because supplies were limited. On display was a staff canteen, public baths, a basketball court and the spot where a young woman and man sheltered from the rain and fell for one another.
Qiu is one of the thousands of tourists who made a nostalgic visit to Xiangyang after being inspired by the Spring Festival blockbuster, which raked in more than 3 billion yuan ($464 million) and led the film's director Jia Ling to becoming the female director with the biggest box office success in Chinese film history.
In the movie, the protagonist, high school student Jia Xiaoling, and her mother, Li Huanying, are hit by a truck and the mother is critically injured. While in the hospital, Jia mysteriously travels to 1981 when Li was in her 20s. They quickly became close friends.
Jia wants to make Li happy by making her the first worker in the factory to be able to buy a television and also wants to help her mom win a big volleyball match. The filial daughter's own fate is endangered as she encourages her mother to marry the son of the factory's manager instead of Jia's father. But her plans repeatedly go awry. While drunk, Jia says she feels useless for not being able to make big money and make her mother proud. But Li said her greatest desire was that her future daughter would be "healthy and happy".
The film is also a tribute to the mother of the director, who died in an accident. Netizens said that the family drama has the ability to "have your tears soak your face mask".
Its critical rating as a film is as high as 9.5 out of 10 on ticketing services platform Maoyan, 9.3 on Alibaba's mobile ticketing app Taopiaopiao and 8.2 from review platform Douban.
A netizen said on Sina Weibo that audiences can easily relate to the story, which tells of maternal love and regrets in life. The netizen added that many of her friends had visited the old, obscure factory where some of the movie scenes were shot.
A manager of a grocery store within the factory complex told The Paper that few people had visited before, but after the film went viral, the number of tourists surged and the store received about 1,000 visits a day.
The crowd was so large on Tuesday and Wednesday that a traffic jam prompted police to maintain order, local authorities said. A middle-aged woman told Pear Video that her late uncle had once worked at the factory. She decided to visit after watching the movie revived childhood memories within her.
During the Spring Festival holiday from Feb 11 to Wednesday, Xiangyang welcomed 837,600 tourist visits and related revenue stacked up to over 154 million yuan, according to the city's publicity department.
Hubei Weidong Holding Group and 603 Cultural and Creative Park, two of the shooting locations for the movie, have received more than 30,000 tourist visits so far since the film opened over the long holiday.
As an old industrial base, Xiangyang has many factories producing pharmaceuticals, machinery and aerospace equipment. The city will further promote industrial tourism by developing industrial heritage and factory tours with more participation from local companies, the department said.
Zhu Yunhai, a tourism expert from Hubei University of Arts and Science, told Xiangyang Daily that the rising popularity of the film is helping the city become better known and said there is potential for the integrated development of the culture and tourism industries.
Ji Gang, a global partner at consultancy Roland Berger, said the success of movies and soap operas sometimes transforms shooting locations into hot spots and drives local tourism for some time. How long their fame can last depends on the power of the story, Ji said.